Matters of Taste: NiMarco’s Pizza

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, April 2022

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

Integrity is infectious. Personally, living with integrity can make life much simpler, but that is not to say, easier. It is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching, and especially when nothing can be gained.

Related to business, it keeps a shop in compliance. It honors commitments and permeates the culture of a workplace. It is accountable to employees and customers. Further, transparency in mistakes builds trust.

That attitude creates an unstoppable force. As a radio personality, speaker and author Earl Nightingale shared: Integrity is the seed for achievement; it is the principle that never fails.

Integrity becomes the culture via leadership. Dave Ledbetter experienced that nearly three decades ago, when he and his wife, Angie, entered Northern Arizona University and needed work. Gary and Karyn Reid were the second owners of NiMarco’s Pizza and gave them jobs. The families maintained a good relationship going forward.

“I have nothing, but admiration and respect for Gary,” said Ledbetter, the current owner NiMarco’s. “He is the epitome of integrity and taught me what it means.”

As NiMarco’s celebrated 40 years in 2019, perhaps a recap of events is worthwhile. The original location in downtown is unassuming and off the beaten track. Reid bought the shop and ran it for about 13 years as Ledbetter honed his entrepreneurial skills in the industry.

Then, Ledbetter said to Reid, “I’d love to buy that business and own my own place one of these days.”

Six months later, Reid sold to Ledbetter. Over 10 years, he built the brand and expanded with the Milton Road location. In 2019, the Eastside spot opened. A recession and a pandemic proved training grounds for performance under pressure, while aims to refine the processes and create a consistent product carried NiMarco’s forward.

That, and putting paint brushes in employees’ hands if that’s what it took to keep staff working through the pandemic. Frescos by Mural Mice cover walls of the Eastside shop, honoring the great outdoors, family fun and the Reids. A revamp of the original location added a retro Beaver Street scene.

Ledbetter would tell you, “The pizza business isn’t glamorous; we don’t do rocket science.”

Still, coming up through the ranks can build a business head. Two couples now run the daily tasks that keep three NiMarco’s Pizza joints humming. Tommy Glynn worked as general manager before becoming a partner with wife, Danny.

“Tommy has done wonders contributing to progress,” Ledbetter shared. “He finds new and improved ways of doing things efficiently and cares about staff — we love on our people.”

They live the mantra: Happy staff and the rest falls into place.

“Arguably, the longest-standing owner in NiMarco’s history—over 22 years—we are hands-on operators,” he said.

Dough is critical to a good pie, and NiMarco’s makes it “Flagstaff-style,” a term coined to describe the thickness and texture that doesn’t easily fall into Italian regional categories. Daily, dough is freshly made, never rolled out from frozen discs.

The sauces are house-made from quality tomato products. In fact, Ledbetter visited the Modesto, California farms to see where his tomatoes are grown and packed.

NiMarco’s is particularly choosey about cheese, sourcing an aged product and grating it fresh. “I’m paying someone hours each day to grate cheese, but it makes all the difference—creamier, melts better and tastes best.”

Hand down, the most popular pie is the pepperoni pizza. Popeye with a garlic butter base, piled high with spinach, Roma tomatoes, red onion, bacon and mozzarella is a top seller. South of the Border begins with green chili sauce, topped with jack, cheddar and mozz cheeses, jalapeños, black beans and fresh tomatoes to bridge the choice between Mexican or Italian for dinner. Monster meat is billed for the carnivore, loaded with the usual suspects plus handmade Italian sausage and ham. The homage pie, Gary’s Special, shoots the works with pepperoni, sausage, olives, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers.

Of course, there are veggie options, chicken or people can build their own pizza to include premium toppings, like artichoke hearts. Appi-teezers can front-load the meal with fried zucchini or calamari or cauli-fire—buffalo-styled, batter-fried florets—or wings or salad.

The difference between a corporate store and NiMarco’s Pizza, Ledbetter believes, is character, and he has hired thousands of young people over the years in the effort. As many experience their first time away from home, Ledbetter said, “We become surrogate parents as they transition to independence.”

They learn discipline and accountability, but it’s not just a job; it’s a life lesson. From there, they earn an education and go on to careers.

Ledbetter keeps in touch with some, and he refers to his trove of thanks-yous as, “the crowning jewel of this life experience.” He added, “It’s a huge responsibility to prepare people for success, and we all contribute—parents, teachers and the local pizza guy.” NAMLM